Overview of Misdiagnosis


One of the first issues for a newly diagnosed patient is to consider whether the diagnosis is correct. It is important to validate a diagnosis and be certain of its accuracy. On the other hand, hoping for a misdiagnosis should not be used as a way to vaccilate and avoid treatment for a serious medical problem. Nevertheless, it is prudent to attempt to confirm a diagnosis via methods such as seeking second opinions, consulting specialists, getting further medical tests, and researching information about the medical condition.

Misdiagnosis can and does occur and is reasonably common with error rates ranging from 1.4% in cancer biopsies to a high 20-40% misdiagnosis rate in emergency or ICU care. Surveys of patients also indicate the chance of experiencing a misdiagnosis to range from 8% to 40%. This makes misdiagnosis one of the most common types of medical mistakes.

There are various reasons as to why a misdiagnosis can occur including errors by doctors, specialists, and laboratory tests. The patient can also contribute to an error in various ways.

There are various types of misdiagnosis ranging from a totally wrong diagnosis to a partial misdiagnosis as to the wrong subtype, underlying condition, medication causes, related conditions, or complications. Conditions for which a person never seeks medical advice are also a common type of misdiagnosis.

Misdiagnosis does not occur equally for all conditions but follows certain patterns. Some conditions are inherently more difficult to diagnose, whereas common familiar conditions are less commonly misdiagnosed. Some diseases are over-diagnosed whereas other conditions are more commonly under-diagnosed or overlooked.

Misdiagnosis need not be a feared outcome. There are various ways to prevent a misdiagnosis such as seeking a second opinion or a specialist referral. Getting educated about the possible alternative or underlying diagnoses for a condition is useful information to discuss with your doctor.

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